Christina of Markyate, Manly Woman of God: Mysticism, Monasticism, and Masculinity in Twelfth-Century England
Author(s)Bolen, Angela Ruth
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AbstractChristina of Markyate, a little-known twelfth-century mystic, challenged the secular masculinity of medieval England. Christina abandoned her home and family to search for a greater understanding of Christ, and her search led her away from the will of her father, her husband, and her king. Unlike other female religious of the time, she lived in an all-male monastery. Male religious figures from throughout England regularly sought her out for her wisdom and insight. This examination of Christina’s life reveals the complex relationship of sex, gender, and religion in the Middle Ages, because in her search to understand Christ, and by challenging the social constructions of secular masculinity, she was perceived as both male and female, both masculine and feminine. For decades scholars have argued that historical traditions largely exist as a telling of male stories. Though this statement is generally accurate, these histories fail to examine men as gendered beings or the influence ideas about masculine gender have had on female populations. Ignoring the implications of masculinity on the experience of women mystics limits our understanding of how medieval religious and secular populations perceived and acknowledged women’s religiosity or how women gained influence and power within all-male and patriarchal hierarchies. This thesis employs insights from Thomas Laqueur’s one-sex/one-flesh model in a gendered analysis of the twelfth century manuscript, The Life of Christina of Markyate, and explores the influences that fluid medieval social constructions of femininity, masculinity, and biological sex had on the perception of women mystics living and working in male-dominated religious communities. I conclude that the medieval understanding of sex and gender, as delineated by Thomas Laqueur, allowed Christina of Markyate’s male counterparts to perceive her as both male and female, which gave her extraordinary opportunities to challenge traditional gender and religious roles for women. Christina of Markyate’s experiences depict a transformation of Christina from a weak and helpless girl in the secular realm, into a manly woman of God.